Molten Gold

May 12, 2014

A couple days ago, I took my car in to the Honda dealership because one of the warning lights had turned on. (It turned out the problem was a bad seat belt buckle, for which there is apparently a lifetime warranty.) While I was waiting for the service techs to diagnose the problem, I saw a couple minutes from what I assume was the very end of the second Hobbit movie.

I didn’t realize it was The Hobbit at first though—not until I recognized Martin Freeman. In fact, I saw the dragon, but I discounted the possibility that this might be one of Peter Jackson’s efforts almost immediately. The reason was that the quality of the computer animation was pretty bad. I saw a stories-high gold statue of a regal-looking figure (probably Thror, although I thought it looked more like a normally-proportioned Norseman than a dwarf), which the good guys seemed to be trying to gull the dragon into melting. The dragon fell for it, and the result was one of the worst CG sequences I have seen recently, in which they hope to drown the dragon in the molten gold. (As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of Alice in the pool of her own tears.)

Animating liquids is hard. (I remember that this was parodied in an early episode of Rick Mercer’s black comedy about the Canadian film industry, Made in Canada. The producer in charge of one film was explaining to the head of the Toronto studio that a German firm was going to add CG water to all the lake scenes, which were actually being filmed on dry ground, and that nobody would be able to tell the difference. The boss’s response: “We’re ninety minutes away from one of the largest lakes in the world, and you’re having the Hun add the water in post?”) But the gold in this movie did not look anything like a real liquid—not like water, not like liquid metal either. (Liquid metal is wonderful to watch. Try some YouTube videos of mercury flowing around.) It looked like the kinds of effects I would expect to seen on television, or a strictly children’s movie, or even a children’s television show. So I was astounded to discover that this was indeed a high-budget production.

I did not plan to see any of the Hobbit movies anyway, but this really convinced me I would not be missing much.

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